By MaryKate Gallagher
Nationwide, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, also known as D.A.R.E. has been reaching out to elementary school children to prepare them for future peer pressure surrounding drug and alcohol usage.
The DARE program aims to deter students from using drugs and alcohol by educating them about the dangers of various substances. But does the program work?
Sergeant Ed Selb of the Harrison Township police department believes it does. “There’s no clear-cut way to see if the program works, but tobacco use has dropped from 11 to 7 percent with kids between the ages of 12 and 18,” says Selb.
According to the U.S. Census, in the last 10 years the number of children in Harrison Township increased by more than 1,000. In those same 10 years, tobacco use dropped and no rise in the use of any other substance was reported.
“Drugs and alcohol are our there in television and movies, and that’s where a lot of kids are getting their information,” Selb says.
Kids hear the names of drugs and see characters participating in using drugs and alcohol, but it’s more entertainment than educational, according to Selb.
While the program aims to educate students about drugs and alcohol, it also builds a positive relationship between police officers and the community.
Selb, along with other officers involved in the program, involve themselves in community events. This allows them to expand relationships with students, allowing for positive relationships between police officers and the public.
“I had DARE when I was in sixth grade. I still haven’t used drugs or drank alcohol. I don’t know of Sgt Selb even remembers me, but I still wouldn’t want him to catch me doing something like drugs,” says Nicole Mahan, a freshman at Clearview Regional High School.
This relationship not only discourages students from using drugs and alcohol, it also calms potentially strained situations when a former DARE student does find himself in trouble, according to Selb.
Laura Gallagher is a school nurse and health teacher at Elsinboro Elementary School in Salem County. “We have a small school but we still have a DARE program. I think its great to get the students talking and comfortable with police officers,” Gallagher said.
Funding for the program comes from township police departments. Being a DARE officer is not a voluntary position, therefore the police department pays for the officers to teach classes.
With recent cuts, DARE classes are some of the first things to be dropped from police department budgets.
Schools with strict curricula cannot find time to incorporate DARE into a school day.
Currently, the DARE program is going through federal reform so it will fit into every school’s curriculum.
“I’m not saying that this program solves all drug problems. But when the number of students goes up and substance abuse rates don’t, I see that as a success,” says Selb.
While drug prevention is important to protecting the youth, there has been speculation in recent years as to the DARE programs effectiveness.
According to a Surgeon General report, “DARE is implemented too early in child development: It is hard to teach children who have not gone through puberty how to deal with the peer pressure to use drugs that they will encounter in middle school.”
Critics of the program, like The Family Council on Drug Awareness, believe DARE is the reason drug use has risen during what they refer to as the “DARE Generation,” or children receiving the DARE program from 1991-1996.
The Family Council on Drug Awareness believes the program is a propaganda tool with a hidden agenda.
The program, which has been altered several times since beginning in 1983, is being edited again on a national level. Social skills training has been added, as well as modifications that will appeal to an older group of students.
Modified versions of the program have not yet been evaluated.